A strange article has appeared on Pitpass this evening. Pitpass does often like to emphasise how Formula 1 is always shooting itself in the foot, and often it has a point. But I just don’t understand this article. “A black day for Formula One”? Well it’s been interesting to say the least, but I’d hardly say it has been a black day. Sending a driver to the back of the grid for cheating is hardly up there with the likes of Indygate, which was a real black day for F1.
Given that the article was only posted after the stewards’ decision was announced, and not after Michael Schumacher’s incident on track, I assume that the beef is with the stewards. But I think, given that the stewards have decided that Schumacher has cheated, sending him to the back of the grid is an apt punishment.
So the question is: were the stewards right to say that Schumacher cheated? Well, the initial reaction seemed to be overwhelming. When Schumacher drifted off line and the yellow flag situation came about, it was immediately obvious that every other driver on the track was going to be unable to set a fast time. My gut instinct at the time was, “How convenient. I bet he did that on purpose.”
Seconds later, Flavio Briatore appeared on screen shaking his head. After the commercial break the anchormen were suggesting that Schumacher deliberately caused the yellow flag situation. The commentators were saying that he could have completed the corner. Pat Symmonds was on his way to complain. Schumacher, in a performance which has been described as “nervous” and “sheepish”, faced hostile questioning in the press conference, while Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber made their feelings clear.
In fact, drivers up and down the pitlane have commented with varying degrees of anger. It is not unusual to hear drivers throwing around various accusations about deliberately holding up, brake testing and suchlike. But these are usually individual one-off spats between two drivers. It certainly is unusual for such a range of drivers to say the same thing: How convenient for Michael Schumacher to spin on the last corner, thereby preventing his rivals who were threatening his position from completing their laps.
Only on the internet has anybody dared to defend Michael Schumacher — glory hunting pseudo-tifosi who are unquestioningly loyal to their hero Schumi to the point of being blind.
Of course, you could argue it the other way. So many people are ready to pounce on Michael Schumacher whenever there’s a hint of suspicion that he has done something wrong. That may be so. But my response has to be: are you surprised? With a track record like Michael Schumacher’s, it would be naive not to consider the possibility that he cheated.
- Adelaide 1994 — deliberately crashed into Hill to win the World Championship
- Jerez 1997 — deliberately crashed into Villeneuve attempting to win the World Championship
- Silverstone 1998 — took a farcical stop–go penalty after the chequered flag was shown
- Austria 2002 — a farcical last-minute switch of positions on the final corner for the sake of a few points for Schumacher, leaving a seriously bitter taste in the mouth
- Indianapolis 2002 — a supposed attempt at a so-called “manufactured dead heat” going wrong, leaving another seriously bitter taste in the mouth
It is true that not all of these incidents can be described as cheating. But there are common themes uniting them all: contempt for the spirit of racing; contempt for the spectators; greedily gaining a few points at any cost, even if it makes the team and the sport as a whole look ridiculous. This has sullied the reputation of Ferrari and even more so that of Michael Schumacher.
My father pointed out to me that it is rather hypocritical of Flavio Briatore to complain given that he was running Benneton when Schumacher drove for them in 1994. But Benetton weren’t (and Renault aren’t) compulsive rule-benders in the sense that Ferrari sometimes seem to be. The German may be an amazing driver who holds every record worth taking, but I have a feeling that the history books will remember him more for the farcical incidents — the delibrate crashes and cynical team orders — than for his superficial collection of numbers.
So if we are agreed that the chances are that Michael Schumacher delibrately ran wide at la Rascasse — and the Pitpass article doesn’t make a judgement on this as far as I can tell — then how come “Formula One has suffered another massive blow to its credibility”?
I can’t think that it can be because the FIA disciplined a cheat. Surely that is the normal way to go about things? It certainly makes a nice change for the FIA not to be letting Ferrari get away with murder as usual.
Is it because of the length of time it took the stewards to make a decision? I’m not convinced. I can remember instances when drivers (Jacques Villeneuve?) were racing on appeal while they were waiting for a decision that took weeks to come through. I said in my post below that it was not surprising that the stewards were taking their time since the decision would have important repercussions. Surely it is better for them to make a considered decision slowly rather than a wrong decision hastily.
So is it because of the very fact that Michael Schumacher cheated? I hardly think so. Every sport has its cheats. I read one person compare today’s incident with the time David Beckham deliberately got himself booked so that he could be suspended for an unimportant game, cancelling his yellow card. Was that a dark day for football? Of course not. It was just a silly day for David Beckham.
Similarly, this is a silly day for Michael Schumacher. In my view that does not make it a dark day for Formula 1.
Update: GrandPrix.com: A landmark decision.